One of the most popular novelty artists of all time, Ray Stevens enjoyed a remarkably long career
, with a stretch of charting singles -- some of them major hits -- that spanned four decades. Unlike parody king Weird Al Yankovic
, Stevens made most of his impact with original material, often based on cultural trends of the day. Yet his knack for sheer silliness translated across generations, not to mention countless compilations and special TV offers. Stevens was a legitimately skilled singer and producer who also performed straight country and pop, scoring the occasional serious hit. But in general, comic novelty songs were his bread and butter, and his brand of humor somehow managed to endure seismic shifts in popular taste and style.
Stevens was born Harold Ray Ragsdale on January 24, 1939, in the small town of Clarkdale, GA. He started piano lessons at age six and formed a band at 15 called the Barons, which played at local venues and social events. At 17, he moved to Atlanta and caught on with radioman Bill Lowery
's music publishing company; one of his songs, "Silver Bracelet," got him a shot at recording for Capitol subsidiary Prep, but the single never hit outside of Atlanta. Stevens enrolled at Georgia State University to study classical piano and music theory and in the meantime continued to record for Lowery
's NRC label. One of his earliest novelty songs, 1960's "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon," was building a national buzz until a copyright ...